By The Other Guy | September 2, 2020
Dating to the earliest days of Prohibition, the city of Cleveland has always played a major role in the development of organized crime in this country. In fact, one of the earliest known national meetings of the original Sicilian mafia who had established themselves in America took place at the Hotel Statler in Ohio back in 1928.
Twenty-some-odd of the most notorious and important Sicilian mafiosi representing a variety of borgatas across the country met that infamous day.
We now know this because documented history reflects that the Cleveland Police Department raided the hotel rooms they had rented for the “meet” and interrupted that meeting midstream.
All attendees were arrested and detained for questioning, before later being released for a lack of evidence of any actual crime having been committed. They were ordered out of the city limits as “undesirables.”
But before letting them go the police noted the prior criminal records, the towns and cities they traveled from, and of course their names and their reputations in their hometowns accordingly.
Among the more noteworthy were Giuseppe (Joe) Profaci, Giuseppe (Joe Malyok) Magliocco, Salvatore (Tutti) Lombardino, Giuseppe (The Peasant) Traina, Vincenzo Mangano and Emanuele (Nello) Cammarata among others from the New York-New Jersey area. Pasqualino (Patsy) Lolordo, Antonio (Tony) Bello, and Giuseppe (Hop Toad) Giunta from Chicago. Ignazio (Red) Italiano and Giuseppe (Joe) Vaglica from Tampa, Giovanni (Johnny) Mirabella from St. Louis, and Salvatore (Sam) DiCarlo from Buffalo.
There were many others who attended as well. Many were bosses or higher ups of their respective clans.
As early as 1906 the local Cleveland City Police started noticing an increased series of murders among the Italian immigrant community that they later attributed to “Black Hand” activity.
It became a growing phenomena across other cities and towns in this country as well. By the 1910s there were many loosely organized gangs and Italian clans including what became widely known as “The Mayfield Road Gang”.
This entity was the early precursor of what would later become the Cleveland Family of Cosa Nostra. Their name was taken from the Little Italy area of Cleveland known as the Mayfield Road section or Murray Hill where many of them grew up.
Another largely Italian area was the Collinwood section of town, where another Italian based gang would form. There were others as well. Collectively, these small, early gangs, criminal bands, and “crews” would form the basis for the Mafia title wave that was to come.
In 1931, with the finish of the infamous Castellammarese War and the subsequent killing of Sicilian strongman Salvatore Maranzano, there was the creation of the national “Commission” formed by Lucky Luciano and the other bosses as a “mediating body” over all of Cosa Nostra.
The Cleveland Family under Francesco (Ciccio) Milano was arguably said to have been one of the few borgatas to have been invited to sit at that original Commission table with the New York City bosses.
If this is true as is thought by mob historians, this “fact” in and of itself shows the power of, and the respect afforded to this Family to have been one of the “founding” members among more than 28 known such borgatas throughout the United States to have been chosen. It was a lofty perch Milano held.
The city of Cleveland is comprised of a geographic area stretching out over eighty-two square miles. By 1920, its population had grown to almost 800,000.
By 1930, it had a population of just over 900,000 residents. It was a solid and quickly developing city and as good a place as any for the American underworld to stretch its powerful arms.
By 1950, the populous had reached 915,000. From that point forward though Cleveland would continually drop in population due to a changing demographic and the growing loss of jobs amid deindustrialization.
But in its heyday starting from the 1920s forward, the Mafia of this city had a field day and thrived for over 50 years.
Situated on the shores of Lake Erie, early in their history Cleveland played host to a wide swath of underworld ethnicities who grabbed their piece of the “racketeer pie” so to speak.
The city was in a good position geographically to facilitate the smuggling of illicit liquor by boat and land. The Great Lakes Region was greatly utilized by bootleggers who would buy boatloads of liquor legally in Canada and then sneak it back across the borders into Ohio.
Of course, many other bootleggers built “Alky-Stills” and just produced their own. But Prohibition overall regardless of the method used would be the catalyst to turn previous street hoodlums and small-time criminals into millionaires and in some cases multi-millionaires.
Both the Italians and the Jews of Cleveland capitalized on this “failed national experiment”.
There were top Irish hoodlums who also struck “liquid gold” as well. Many top Jewish racketeers would soon emerge. They worked independently and together with their Italian counterparts in the alcohol bootleg trade.
Among the more notable of these early Jewish racketeers was Moe Dalitz, Louis Rothkopf, Maurice Klein, and Sam Tucker. Collectively, they became known as “The Little Jewish Navy” for their exploits in buying legal liquor up in Canada and then smuggling it by boat into Cleveland.
In later years, they would become pivotal figures in the early development of gambling in Las Vegas, Nevada. Their insight and huge bankrolls helped ensure them a spot at the table with other nationally known mafiosi and racketeers to either build or buy into various casinos that would dot the Las Vegas strip by the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Side Note: The mobs infiltration of Las Vegas, and that of the Cleveland Family of Cosa Nostra in particular which always backed the play of their Jewish mob associates was said to include the Stardust, and Desert Inn Hotels & Casinos. In partnership with New York, Chicago, and several other Mafia Families, the Cleveland mob conducted a massive profit “skimming” operation for decades. It provided millions in untaxed money to be divided amongst the various borgatas involved throughout the years.
Digressing a bit to the mafia’s early history in Cleveland, there had been a lot of strife as the various Italian mobs and gangs jockeyed for position for the city’s rackets. Among the many who fought for supremacy were the Porrello and Lonardo brothers. Each blood family had multiple siblings, the Porrello’s had seven and the Lonardo’s had four. At one point in time they were said to have been allies, but at some point split and became arch rivals.
This division in power and loyalties lay in the profits to be had in the bootlegging rackets. For although they previously worked together, and separately in various robbery, extortion, Italian lottery, and other schemes, the vast profits to be had in alcohol would bring them nose to nose in rivalry….and the cost, in bloodshed and lives, would be considerable.
The true lasting Italian underworld power in Cleveland began with the rule of Frank Milano in the early 1930s. He was officially named as the first “Representante” of what would become a nationally recognized “Family” of Cosa Nostra in Cleveland. In tandem with all the other participating borgatas throughout the United States.
His tenure as boss solidified the Family and made it a structured hierarchy as we commonly know the Mafia today. The extremely wealthy former bootlegger Ciccio Milano headed a Family that at its 1950s-1960s peak was said by the FBI to number approximately 50 to 60 formally inducted and recognized mafia members. They oversaw an organization that governed hundreds more “associate members” and loose “affiliates” of every ethnicity, who collectively generated many millions of dollars annually through a wide variety of rackets.
The old Milano Family not only established and controlled racket operations in the city of Cleveland, but most of its outer environs as well: Akron, Canton, Warren, and everything in between within the state of Ohio was theirs exclusively.
The one exception was the city of Youngstown where because of its geographic proximity, there was an agreement to share power with the nearby Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Family of John La Rocca. But Youngstown became a problem because of it and stayed a sharp thorn in the side of the Cleveland mob for decades.
In essence, the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Families would conduct what could be viewed as a protracted guerrilla war for supremacy that they each waged against one another while keeping a smile on their faces toward each other. This “on-again, off-again” hidden conflict saw many gangland slayings through the years by the various members and associates of both factions who vied for power.
Among the better known of Cleveland’s Mafia who either lived or operated in Youngstown, or both, were Giuseppe (Little Joe) Blumetti, a respected soldier and resident of Youngstown.
He was a former counterfeiter and narcotics trafficker who later gravitated to the jukebox and vending machine rackets, and labor movement becoming a business agent of several important union locals including Vending Machine Workers Union Local # 410, Teamsters Local # 377, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. These positions helped Blumetti control a large portion of the labor racketeering and labor extortion rackets for the Family.
In fact, the Cleveland “Outfit” as it was commonly called was always very heavily engaged in labor racketeering in general, through their iron-clad control over a wide swath of labor unions governing a wide variety of important industries.
Aside from the aforementioned union locals above, this borgata held sway over the Laundry, Dry Cleaning, and Dye House Workers International Union – Local # 1, which was headed by mob associate John Zittello Jr.
Another important union used to extort and otherwise “shakedown” the construction industry was Builders Union – Local # 108 of which the malleable Andy Gump was the president fronting for Scalish. And let’s not forget the Hotel Service Workers & Miscellaneous Restaurant Employees Union – Local # 274, which was operated under the corrupt hand of Family soldier Joseph (Joe Polo) Poliafico, and mob associate Jack Lubin who doubled as a shylock at the local racetracks.
When you also consider this borgata’s strong connections and the considerable influence it exercised over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union through several minions of the Family who did its bidding, the Scalish/Licavoli Family was probably one of the more influential of Cosa Nostra groups in control of the American labor movement in this country. Especially proportionately speaking in regard to the size of its actual inducted membership. Pound for pound it more than held its own on the labor front.
That may be a prime reason why in later years federal law enforcement tied the Cleveland Outfit into several multi-Family conspiracies along with the Genovese Family of New York, the Chicago Outfit, and the Kansas City mob to bribe Teamster officials or otherwise be awarded multimillion-dollar Teamsters Pension Fund loans which allowed them to infiltrate several Las Vegas Casinos.
Side Note: Top labor unions officials William (Big Bill) Presser, his son Jackie Presser, as well as Louis (Babe) Triscaro were the three top Teamsters Union officials directly under the control of the Cleveland Family through the years. They provided a direct link to the presidency of the International, and to James R. Hoffa himself.
These individuals were also pivotal in the Cleveland mob’s access to a series of multimillion-dollar Teamsters Pension Fund loans that were utilized to leverage a secret ownership interest in several Las Vegas Casinos, which in turn allowed for a massive profit “skimming” operation from the gambling tables right into the pockets of Scalish and his contemporaries before the cash boxes hit the “counting rooms” which was under the surveillance of casino regulators. This scheme undoubtedly became one of the greatest racket operations ever operated by this Family, and Cosa Nostra in general.
Another important figure was top “capo di decina” Charles (Cadillac Charlie) Cavallaro. Born in the Agrigento region of Sicily in 1902, he was an old line “Zip” and Youngstown resident who controlled area gambling and vice until he was blown to bits along with his two young sons in a November, 1962 car bombing during the strife of warfare between factions.
Technically, Ciccio Milano’s reign as head of the Family was short however because of a tax-evasion indictment brought against him in 1935. He fled to Mexico where he would live as a well-respected mafia boss in exile for years to come down south of the border.
In fact, in later years he still exerted influence back in Cleveland as well as on the west coast in Southern California because of the great respect his name and reputation generated.
It was widely reported and documented that back in 1930 he and several other top members of the Cleveland Outfit had all pooled their resources together and invested a great deal of money in the purchase of over 80,000 acres of land south of the border in Mexico.
At some early point in time, his partners all wanted to bail out of the land deal, so Milano accommodated them. Soon, he was the sole owner of these vast tracts of land and decided to go it alone.
Over the next 35 years, Milano developed some of the land and leased out portions for a coffee plantation, and sold the trees he had chopped down during development as timber. In approximately 1968 Milano sold the property to the Mexican government for a huge profit and completely relocated himself to Southern California where had also operated over the years.
Frank (Ciccio) Milano was indeed an extremely wise and business savvy mafioso. Maybe thats another reason why he was so revered for upwards of fifty years, whether he was “technically” in the boss seat or that of a semi-retired elder statesman.
Side Note: The Peter Milano, Frank Milano Jr., and Carmen Milano we have heard about who were later active in the Los Angeles borgata are the direct descendants of Ciccio Milano; they were his sons and his nephew.
Their later ascendancy to hierarchy positions can be directly traced to the reverence the Milano name carried within the Italian underworld.
After Milano a close associate named Alfonso (Big Al) Polizzi aka “Alfred Polizzi” would rise to steer Cleveland’s ship for approximately a decade until he too stepped down because of an income-tax evasion case.
He later moved to Miami, Florida by the late 1940s where he would mostly reside and operate from for the rest of his days….Enter the new boss of the Family, John Scalish.
He would run a solid borgata which boasted such capable mafiosi over the years as underbosses Anthony (Tony) Milano, Leo (Lips) Moceri, as well as consiglieri Johnny DeMarco and Frank Brancato.
Another key mob figure closely associated with this crew was the Jewish hoodlum Milton (Maishe) Rockman, who was Scalish’s brother-in-law and treated as somewhat of an unofficial “counselor” or advisor through the years.
Giovanni (John Scalish) Scalici – born 1912, was to become the longest-reigning “Representante” of this borgata. From 1944 until his death in 1976, Scalish would rule over a tightly run crew for 32 years.
Ostensibly, he was a partner in a large jukebox-cigarette-pinball game vending firm named the Buckeye Cigarette Service Company. Scalish also held interests in taverns, nightclubs, restaurants, and other businesses as a partner with various members of his borgata.
One of his greatest “coups” was to invest in Las Vegas casinos. His leadership saw the Family prosper at a time that was “heady” days for organized crime in general.
The 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s were generally successful eras for the brotherhood. Only with the advent of the federal government’s onslaught of investigations, indictments and subsequent imprisonments did the armor of Omertà start to crack.
This was also largely brought on by the bloody infighting that soon commenced in many cities as the former bosses were either jailed, died, or otherwise removed from the scene, leaving the doors open for less capable, and hungry mafiosi to try and fill the vacuum created by their absence.
Side Note: The Cleveland Family was well represented at the November, 1957 Apalachin Mafia Meeting at the Upstate New York home of Binghamton boss Joseph Barbara Sr., by boss John Scalish, and his underboss John DeMarco.
This exposure would create intensified investigation into Scalish’s activities and those of his close associates by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for years to come.
With the death of Scalish, a former “capo di decina” named James (Blackie) Licavoli aka “Jack White” was elected to head the Family.
Although Licavoli was a tough, loyal and dedicated mafioso to his craft for upwards of 40 years, he lacked the smarts and organizational savvy required to sometimes navigate the murky waters of the underworld.
He was mostly a blue-collar, unsophisticated hoodlum who made a great soldier, a pretty good capo di decina, but a weak leader.
Under his leadership, the Family would suffer. First with a dwindling of racket income because of his narrow vision of the world, and next by his weak response to several challenges to both his leadership and the overall territory his Family governed.
A disgruntled former “associate” of the Family named John Nardi (who coincidentally was a nephew of Ciccio Milano), who doubled as a labor-union official and mob figure, in an unlikely partnership with an arrogant Irish hoodlum named Danny Greene, decided to challenge the leadership of the Licavoli Family and its top figures.
Over the course of a decade or so, they increasingly went nose to nose against multiple “made” members of the Cleveland Family competing for racket revenue.
Greene was a hardheaded screwball of an Irishman who proudly wore his Celtic colors on his sleeve. He fancied himself a tough guy who didn’t give a fuck for those Guinea “Spaghetti-Benders”. Greene felt that he should be the boss of the area.
He ran a small gang of like-minded hoodlums who later allied with Nardi for added strength to bring down the Licavoli’s.
During this protracted conflict the City of Cleveland suffered through many car bombings (a favored method of disposal), shootings, and a few MIAs or missing in action, where mob guys disappeared forever including that of Licavoli underboss Calogero (Leo the Lip) Moceri…It was the last straw.
For their efforts, John Nardi would later get blown to smithereens on May 17, 1977 by a remote-controlled dynamite car bomb that had been placed under his automobile while he was retrieving it from the parking lot of his Teamsters Union hall headquarters in Cleveland.
Nardi had been long destined to meet his maker.
Greene was also killed in late 1977 by a remote-detonated car bomb placed in an auto parked next to his car in the parking lot of his dentist’s office where he had gone for an appointment…and that was that as they say!
But the fact that Licavoli had chosen to use an “outside” associate and not “made” members of the Cleveland Family for those killings would create big problems. It would come back to haunt the Family.
A struggling hood named Ray Ferritto had been contracted to carry out the hit with the promise of mob “membership” upon successful completion. It was said that not only did Licavoli renege on that promise but he considered eliminating Ferritto altogether.
Ferritto soon turned informant… Now what came first? The “chicken or the egg” is up for debate. Did Ferritto turn rat and Licavoli wanted him killed? Or did Licavoli betray the confidence of Ferritto which made him “flip” to the government?
It’s really of little consequence because either way the information provided by Ferritto would help convict Licavoli and other top members of their borgata. They all went to prison in 1982 for the murder of Greene.
Next up at bat was an old-timer and veteran of the Cleveland mafia named Angelo Lonardo, the son and nephew of the original Lonardo’s of the 1920s-1930s era of the Family. His underworld resume helped insure him a top spot.
But he was another semi-incompetent hoodlum who chose to sanction narcotics dealing by certain members of their shrinking Family membership because of the big profits that could be made.
They would all prosper moving large quantities of cocaine for several short years before the federal hammer of the DEA came down with a series of large indictments charging Lonardo and several other important members with narcotics trafficking.
Facing heavy time, Lonardo caved, and soon betrayed his “Oath of Omertà” and spilled the beans to federal investigators and before a U.S. Senate Hearing on the mafia.
He became the highest ranking mafioso of his era to betray his oath, and his testimony helped put away many mob luminaries such as New York City “underboss” Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno and other top bosses in federal prison, not only in the famed Commission case, but in other such trials as well.
In the nearby city of Pittsburgh, their underboss Charles (Chuck) Porter would also later became a “rat” for lack of a better word because of a major narcotics conviction as well. Involvement in drugs can be seen as the start of the decline in both crews.
The betrayals of both Lonardo and Porter were devastating blows to their respective hierarchies, and the morale of their remaining respective membership… these events can be seen as the true beginning of the end of this borgata, and that of nearby Pittsburg as well.
By the end of the decade and into the early 1990s what was at one time a stable and vibrant Family of Cosa Nostra was hobbling on one leg.
The FBI, IRS, DEA and every other “letter” of their partners throughout law enforcement had pretty much cannibalized what remained off the carcass of the Scalish/Licavoli Family.
It was said that the leadership over whatever was left of the Family fell to John (Peanuts) Tronolone for a time. Then on to Anthony (Tony) Liberatore. Soldiers Russell Papalardo and Joseph (Joe Loose) Iacobacci were also fleetingly mentioned as “holding the preverbal fort” in those last years for whatever that was worth.
But with just a few aging “made” members left on the streets, and a handful of inexperienced and highly-suspect younger associates who were untrained and “green” at best, this once proud borgata pretty much disintegrated into oblivion.
Today, whatever and whoever remains of this Family, if anything, pretty much hide under rocks and inside of their caves. Because by and large, the Scalish Family of Cosa Nostra is no more!
Until the next time, “The Other Guy”.
What follows below is an organizational hierarchy chart of the Cleveland Family from approximately 1945 through 1980. Most names listed were believed to have been formally “inducted” members of the borgata at some point during this thirty-five year period. The men who may not have been officially “made” into the Family, nonetheless were important “associate members”, some of whom were thought to have been eligible as “proposed members” for possible formal induction down the road. The remainder were at least active Family associates. Please refer to the “Key to the Chart” below to identify known and suspected members from the mob “associates”.
Key to the chart:
^ connotes later elevated to the hierarchy
~ connotes probable “associate”
+ connotes informer
= connotes transfers from/to another Family
THE SCALISH/LICAVOLI FAMILY
Angelo Lonardo +
Milton Rockman ~
CAPO DI DECINA
Giuseppe Di Carlo =
Russel Papalardo ^
Fred Angersola ~
Samuel Bussaca ~
Nicholas Bibbo ~
Anthony Buffa ~
John P. Calandra
Ronald Carabbia ~
Eugene Ciasullo ~
John Ciricullo ~
William DeNova ~
Raymond Ferritto ~
Joseph Giamo ~
Frank Liosi ~
Nicholas Nardi ~
Frank Pircio ~
Charles Spitalieri ~
Joseph Zingale ~
Michael J. Minaden ~
Anthony Mollica ~
Nicholas Barone ~
Anthony Bonadonna ~
Frank Favaro ~
Charles Cassaro =
Charles Lakis ~
Anthony Randazzo =
Joseph Cupido ~
Frank Fioretti ~
Charles Carabbia ~
John Cirelli ~
Ernest J. Fusco
John Delzoppo ~
Joseph Gallo ^
Joseph Iacobacci ^
Frank Lonardo ~
John Nardi ~
Paul Perrotti ~
Anthony Spitalieri ~
Salvatore Sirna ~
John Tronolone ^
Thomas Zingale ~
Louis Battista ~
Nunzio Destro ~
Dominick Popa ~
John Zittello Jr. ~
Jack Lubin ~
This article was originally posted “here“